Chinese New Year Celebrations in Singapore

People gathered at a temple in Singapore to burn joss sticks to gods, as they believe that will bring them good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Image credit: Fan Jia Rong

The Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year is widely celebrated by Chinese all over the world, and is probably the equivalent of Christmas in its significance. As the name suggests, it is a celebration of the beginning of a new year, according to the lunar calendar.

This year, the first day of the Lunar New Year fell on 28th January, marking the start of the year of the Rooster (the Chinese Zodiac is a twelve-year cycle, with each year marked by an animal).

Celebrations begin however, with the Reunion Dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year. Typically, this is when the extended family (or close friends) come together for a dinner, and some may also count down to the Lunar New Year as we do with the normal new year celebrations. While there is no holiday for the Lunar New Year here in the UK, the first day of the Lunar New Year happened to fall on a Saturday, which made it convenient for celebrations! On Friday night (eve of the Lunar New Year), my friends (whom I knew from hall last year) and I gathered for a dinner at one of their houses. It was a reunion indeed, as the whole group of us had not come together in full attendance since we moved out of all into private accommodation.

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We spent some time catching up (over a lot of food, which is always a good idea). My friend also happened to have some typical Chinese New Year biscuits, which I had to eat even though I was bursting from food from dinner. With all the serious catching up done, we got back into our playful mood and played Bananagrams! It was hilarious as we all tried to prove our wits at the game, with the quantitative students doing very well, leaving us qualitative students slightly ashamed and very competitive at the end of the night.

The following day (the first day of the Lunar New Year), my housemates and I hosted a steamboat dinner at our apartment. As our apartment is tiny, we were allowed one guest each. To make things more interesting, we had to invite people whose names started with Y (this was a random letter that I picked with my eyes closed). I invited a close friend whom I knew through the Singapore Society orientation this year, while my housemates invited their boyfriend and ex-roommate respectively.

Photo from Berenice's Chinese New Year celebrations

Their real names are Yinghe, Johnathan and Josh. (We justified the guys’ invitations as J is pronounced as Y in some languages :P)

So what exactly is a steamboat? You might be more familiar with the term hotpot, instead of steamboat. It is basically a huge pot filled with a soup base (usually made from chicken or fish stock), and everyone cooks their food in it together. As our pot had a divider in the middle, we were able to make a chicken soup base and a kimchi soup base for variety.

Photo from Berenice's Chinese New Year celebrations

Legend has it that at the Singapore Society’s steamboat dinner last year, a Singaporean invited his/her Caucasian friend to the dinner, but the friend was rather shocked when they ended up at the Bankside Hall dining room as the friend had thought it was a boat party!

Not every meal in the Lunar New Year celebrations have to be a steamboat (the more lavish dinners are usually those with separate dishes at a restaurant), but it is convenient as there is much less preparation needed (as no cooking is done beforehand) and slightly less washing up to do. As everyone eats from the same pot and helps one another to food, it also fosters a communal atmosphere.

Some of the common steamboat ingredients are sliced meat (beef, pork, lamb), seafood (crabsticks, fishballs, lobster balls, etc.), vegetables (usually lettuce or cabbage), dumplings and eggs, although one is free to put whatever they want into the pot! We bought all our ingredients from a supermarket in Chinatown. Back home we would also often have more expensive ingredients such as scallops and abalone (food items often enjoyed only at Chinese New Year for the lower to middle class families), but alas we are mere students with limited finances here in London.

On the second day of the Lunar New Year, I had yet another steamboat, which frankly was getting slightly too much. It was however, another great opportunity to catch up with friends from church, and to meet new people who had been invited to our connect group.

Scrolling through social media and seeing all the pictures of celebrations at home, and all Chinese New Year biscuits and goodies (which are also very fattening, so at the same time I’m somewhat glad I’m not faced with that temptation) made me very envious of those who were able to celebrate it at home, but my wonderful experience going to various celebrations and hosting a steamboat dinner for the first time was very enjoyable as well!

(The only downside was probably that my phone got stolen while I was buying tofu and canisters of gas for the steamboat in the crowded supermarket. Lesson learnt: Pickpockets don’t take holidays or give you a break just because it’s a joyous occasion!)

For those of you who celebrate Chinese / Lunar New Year, how did you spend your Chinese / Lunar New Year this year, especially if you were in the UK? (I have a few friends who flew back home for this special occasion!)

Berenice Low

lowb

An over-enthusiastic storyteller cum budding anthropologist attempting to travel and understand the world, while munching on french fries.